Sunday, July 3, 2011

The straw that broke the camel's back

In 'The Code of the Woosters', Bertie Wooster says:
A thing I never know, when I'm starting out to tell a story about a chap I've told a story about before, is how much explanation to bung in at the outset. It's a problem you've got to look at from every angle. I mean to say, in the present case, if I take it for granted that my public knows all about Gussie Fink-Nottle and just breeze ahead, those publicans who weren't hanging on my lips the first time are apt to be fogged, Whereas if before kicking off I give about eight volumes of the man's life and history, other bimbos who were so hanging will stifle yawns and murmur 'Old stuff. Get on with it.'

I suppose the only thing to do is to put the salient facts as briefly as possible in the possession of the first gang, waving an apologetic hand at the second gang the while, to indicate that they had better let their attention wander for a minute or two and that I will be with them shortly.
The advantage of a blog is that I can avoid such dilemmas by just giving the appropriate link. Remember the 'Real God' guy? Gosh, you have an amazing memory! I had to read the whole post before it all came back to me.

When the guy saw that I will not agree to the Chennai trip, he suggested later that we perform some prayers at some place they had nearby. I did not object to this since it did not involve any expenses and my presence was not required. So my mother, mother-in-law, sister and Jaya went there for a few days and prayed. One day a woman from the cult asked Jaya if she could see any improvement in me to which she replied in the negative. The woman's reply was predictable, 'You didn't pray hard enough.' She then implied that Jaya was not taking me to Chennai because she did not want me to get cured.

When I was told about this I was annoyed and forbade any further contact with the group. Although the remark was not entirely unexpected, it did not diminish my anger. I could
picture the hauteur with which the woman delivered her verdict, her face suffused with the unctuous self-righteousness and pious certainty that many cult members seem to pocess. (Julia Sweeney gives an account of one such meeting in this TED talk.) Some people think that they can say and and do anything they want if some god is on their side irrespective of the sensitivity and state of mind of the other person.

Some of the cult members came home a couple of times and once wanted to say a prayer for me if I had no objection. I objected so they left. By Zeus, I was not going to listen to their mumbo-jumbo. I think God will forgive me for that one. There is an old joke:
Priest: "Son, do you believe in God?"
Boy : "Father, not when I look at you."
If the Ichneumonidae is often cited as having caused Darwin's loss of faith, it was this incident which made me read a bit more about organised religion. I had been getting irritated by unending suggestions of various rituals which we had to perform. 'Respect creep' was something I started thinking about only after my stroke. As is often the case,only when you experience something do you think about it. This incident was the final straw.

I started reading some articles and listening to some debates on the issue. Debates rarely convince the opposite sides of each other's point of view. The value of debates is that they expose listeners to opinions that they would otherwise not hear since they would be listening to the same bromides being parroted by the members of their in-group which promote in-group fraternity and out-group hostility. Of course it helped that I had not been indoctrinated to any great extent during my formative years. So I did not bristle when I heard statements that did not comport with received wisdom.

I found that a society without god is not exactly dysfunctional. I read about theodicy. I read about why Bhagat Singh became an atheist. I learned that the brain can play strange tricks. (See this talk by V.S.Ramachandran and the discussion that follows. His talk begins at 38:50. I didn't understand anything in the talk before that.) An American Unitarian minister explains what happens in the minds of believers:
That which really belongs to the mind of the reader is attributed to that of the writer. The natural and simple meaning of the words is set aside. Forced interpretations are put upon passages for the purpose of compelling them to harmonize with that which it is supposed they ought to mean. Statements, doctrines, and allusions are discovered in the books which not only have no existence in their pages, but which are absolutely foreign to the epoch at which they were written.
What it all pointed to was what Delos McKown said, “The invisible and the nonexistent look very much alike.” I had never thought about these things. Religion was like a fog all around me that I wasn't too keen on. I was content to go through the motions as expected and leave it at that. I also realised that I would not have read and thought about these things if I had still been busy selling widgets and sitting late in office trying to look busy because the boss would be around. I just wouldn't have had the time. In other words, there would always have been pressure on me to continue to be an exemplary sausage.

You say and do many things not because you have given them much thought but because they play well with people around you. (For example, Miss Indias say that their role model is Mother Teresa.) But as you learn and undergo more experiences,you tend to keep revising your opinions about many issues. If somebody tells you that he hasn't changed his opinions on many issues for decades, he is admitting that his brain has atrophied.As someone said, if you are not idealistic in your twenties you have no heart, if you are idealistic in your forties you have no brain.

I grew fascinated by the concept of shifting the Overton Window. Or, to put it in technical terms, of treating the constraints as endogenous variables.

Note: Most of the links in this post are dated well after the incident which must have happened around six years ago. At that time I was not thinking of writing a blog so I now searched for links that I thought had the kind of information that I remember reading at the time and continue reading off and on.

1 comment:

  1. Ouch! If interested, also read up Bertrand Russell on this topic.